This week's candid conservative editorial on reforming our criminal justice system (6-30-12)
Let's Reform Our Criminal Justice System
Asheville Citizen-Times Editorial - June 24th, 2012
America imprisons two and a half million people. More than any country in the world. When the competition includes China, Korea, Iran, and a host of other despotic nations, being No. 1 isn’t a good thing.
We love bricks and mortar. Fancy schools, sexy stadiums, and cookie cutter prisons are monuments to vanity and lack of creativity, not achievement. Some of the world’s best students come out of one-room shacks in Taiwan. Some of the top football in the NFL is played in Green Bay, one of the league’s least sophisticated arenas. The highest rehabilitation rates involve criminals who never go to prison.
Jails do two realistic things. They punish and insulate criminals. Punishment as a standalone tool has a reverse correlation with rehabilitation. Insulation temporarily protects society as it transitions novice criminals into career criminals.
As the left’s entitlement model continues to change the make-up of our society, and fewer people contribute through taxes and productivity, we’ll have more crime. Our justice system is already saturated and exhausted. We’d better get serious about fixing it or it’s going to fix us.
Punishment works only when applied in conjunction with realism, training, and support. There’s a psychological truism on punishment ignored by our habitual judiciary. Immediacy has more impact than severity. Adjudication a year after criminal action is ineffective for the same reason scolding a puppy two days after he wets the carpet is ineffective.
Jail should be a last-resort for non-violent offenders. Public investment in alternative sentencing resources like drug courts, intensive probation, skill training, home placement, public service, half-way houses and other nontraditional interventions make dollar and outcome sense.
We have the technology and know-how to create a timely justice system that maximizes recovery potentials while holding criminals accountable. That will impair repeat offenders. Most importantly, it will choke the enthusiasm of new recruits eyeballing crime as a career path.
For the same reason hospitals are a poor place to recover from illness, prisons are a poor place to recover from criminality. For the same reason a stroke or heart-attack should be addressed with immediacy, criminal behavior must be too.
Prisons are incubators for criminal enterprise, social dysfunction, and waste that should be reserved for those unwilling to go a better way. Until we create a better way, our prisons will grow and our security will shrink. That’s a crime of its own accord.
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